So you want to add more members to your club. It’s a goal that members have strived toward ever since … well, likely since Ralph Smedley formed the first Toastmasters International club in October 1924. No doubt members of that small Santa Ana, California, group said to themselves, Let’s get more people in here so we have more help with the meeting roles!
The more members, the better the club experience.
Of course, not everyone loves to be in a big club. But for the most part, that’s an enviable problem to have. A quality club should have at least 20 members.
So how do you gain more people? Especially now, in a year where COVID-19 has cast its shadow, prompting Toastmasters clubs around the world to move online for their meetings. Here are some tried-and-true techniques to aid your mission, whether your recruiting efforts are aimed at online meetings or the traditional in-person club setting. The sections below explore key aspects of membership-building, including social media, open houses, recruitment strategies, and community outreach programs.
Digital marketing is particularly valuable in today’s world. Promote your club and its events on social media networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Toastmasters International also has a YouTube channel and a Twitter account. Meetup.com is a popular site for promoting Toastmasters meetings.
Lauren Parsons, a New Zealand Toastmaster, says Facebook is a fertile ground for generating interest in your club. She suggests having a club member be assigned at each meeting to take photos—someone giving a speech, for example, or participating in Table Topics. Post the pictures on your club’s Facebook page. Then tag those members, which means their friends and connections will see the photos too.
"I think social media is one of the most pivotal things that members and clubs can use to help promote their club."—Yesica Vazquez, DTM
“This means we will be able to organically reach more people and create conversations about what is going on at our Toastmasters club meetings,” says Parsons, 2019-2020 Club President of the Talk of the Town Toastmasters in Palmerston North, New Zealand. She created three videos on PR tips for Facebook, including how to create a club Facebook page.
Yesica Vazquez, DTM, a Toastmaster in California, is also a big advocate of social media as a marketing tool. She has posted about her club’s Toastmasters meetings on Instagram, describing snippets of action to spark interest from non-members.
“I think social media is one of the most pivotal things that members and clubs can use to help promote their clubs, especially smaller ones,” she says.
Meetings Matter the Most
Membership-building starts with quality club meetings. Like trying to sell a car with a shiny outside but a lame engine, you can’t sell your Toastmasters club if the product isn’t sturdy and successful. High-quality meetings show visitors this is a place where they can learn and grow, where they can achieve personal and professional goals. That’s what turns guests into members.
Balraj Arunasalam, DTM, Toastmasters’ 2017-2018 International President, knows membership-building well. When he became president of the Colombo Toastmasters Club in Sri Lanka nearly 20 years ago, there were only three clubs in the small island nation. Now, because of the work done by him and other Toastmasters leaders, Sri Lanka has more than 150 clubs.
Always invite guests to come back, and ask them to join your club. That last part—"the ask"—is essential.
Compelling club meetings draw people, stresses Arunasalam. As he stated in a 2018 column for the Toastmaster magazine: “Guests and members are eager to attend club meetings that are exciting, offer diverse topics, provide valuable opportunities, and have great speakers and dynamic leaders.”
That applies equally to online meetings. The virtual format offers a high-quality experience of its own. It presents an opportunity for members to stretch their skills, building their confidence and comfort level with communicating online. That’s a particularly valuable skill in today’s global workplace.
One advantage of recruiting guests to online meetings is that it’s easier for them to attend—they can see what Toastmasters is all about from the comfort of their own home. And if visitors are inexperienced with virtual communication, share resources for online club meetings that will help them feel more comfortable in that setting.
Hold an Open House
An open house is basically what it sounds like: an open invitation to visit your Toastmasters home and see what you do. It’s one of the most reliable tools for recruiting new members.
Set up the event like a standard club meeting, with the same kind of structure and activities (and applause!) Show your guests the feeling of achievement they will gain. Explain each aspect of the meeting. And provide plenty of time for members and visitors to mingle.
Vazquez, the California Toastmaster, says her club—the San Diego Toastmasters 7—typically tries to hold three or four open houses a year. One such event drew close to 80 people last year, she says.
What’s the key to a successful open house? Planning and promotion. Have a club committee plan the event. Invite members of the community and publicize the free program in local media outlets. (Access contact information for such outlets at Mondo Times.)
Promote your program with a customizable Toastmasters flier. Email the flier or print it out and post it around your community. Be sure to include online meeting information, if applicable.
Also invite “alumni”—past members who for one reason or another let their membership lapse. In addition, consider inviting members of local Rotary clubs; Toastmasters International and Rotary International recently formed an alliance to mutually benefit each organization. There’s an email template you can personalize and use to invite Rotarians to Toastmasters club meetings, as well as a PowerPoint template for talking to Rotary clubs about teaming up in a local alliance.
At the event, have a guest packet ready for visitors, even a virtual one you can email later. You can fill it with marketing materials such as the Toastmasters brochures Find Your Voice and Your Path to Leadership, and provide a link to the online Toastmaster magazine.
It’s important that open house speakers represent a mix of experience levels, says Vazquez, a 2019–2020 Division Director in District 5. If only the club’s most distinguished speakers give speeches, she notes, novices in the audience might feel intimidated, thinking there are no beginners in Toastmasters.
There is an art to reaching out and recruiting new members. One immediate step is something Toastmasters know well: talking. Talk up Toastmasters. Tell people about the organization’s value. Give an “elevator speech” about your own experience and how you’ve benefited. Share your message with friends, family members, neighbors, colleagues, community members, and others.
Pitching to potential members isn’t just about touting the value of Toastmasters—it’s about what the program can do for that person specifically. Find out what they’re looking for and tailor your message to how Toastmasters can help them with their own specific goals and needs.
Like so many things, word of mouth carries weight; in fact, it’s still the most effective recruiting tool. That’s what helped Ian Proud’s club boost membership. “People do things because someone they trust asks them to do it,” says Proud, a member of the Greater Susquehanna Valley club in Pennsylvania. “Members [in our club] asked friends and colleagues to accompany them to a meeting. They tended to stay and became members.”
The Kossowan Touch
Peter Kossowan, DTM, is legendary in Toastmasters circles for his persuasive powers. The Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, resident has chartered more than 170 new Toastmasters clubs. That’s not a misprint. A member for 50 years, he is passionate about bringing new people and clubs into the organization, and very successful at it. He finds a softer approach works better than a hard sell.
When Kossowan meets prospects, he doesn’t say, “You should join Toastmasters”—he says, “Why don’t you join me at a Toastmasters meeting and see for yourself the benefits?”
Many clubs and Districts have membership-building resources on their website. District 97 in Southeast Asia has such materials, and one resource offers these tips, among others:
- Ask members to wear their Toastmasters pin or badge—it will generate questions from other people that members, in turn, can answer and use as an invitation.
- Print club business cards and give them to members to hand others.
District 69 in Australia features a raft of resources on its site, including customized videos, presentations, letter templates, and a checklist—compiled from varied Toastmasters materials—to monitor the effectiveness of a club’s guest-to-member journey.
“These tools have been very effective for our clubs,” says Mark Snow, DTM, the District’s 2019-2020 Club Growth Director (CGD).
He and his team developed the framework for the resources, basing it on best practices of customer experience and sales practices in the corporate sector, he says. The District posted the resources in the summer of 2019 and the number of new members increased by 10% before the coronavirus outbreak, Snow adds.
As important as getting the word out is following through on your actions. A first impression is made even before a guest walks in the door. If someone calls or writes your club to ask questions or express an interest in visiting, make sure to respond promptly. Consider this: In a Toastmasters International survey last year of prospective members who had contacted a club, 60% of the respondents said they did not ultimately attend a club meeting; when asked why, more than 70% said it was because the club failed to respond.
Ian Brooks is determined to not let those opportunities slip away. “We work to get an email answer out to every inquiry within hours, and certainly within 24 hours,” says the 2019-2020 Vice President Membership (VPM) for the Eagle Club in Wallingford, Connecticut. “I always offer my cellphone number and invite questions at any time by ‘talk, text, or type’ and remind inquirers of the next meeting details a few days prior.”
The club’s initial email response features a positive, encouraging tone, highlighting that there is no charge to visit and no pressure to speak. It includes an invitation to attend the next meeting. “We are promoting public-speaking training with friendly individual and group support,” says Brooks. “It’s how we connect with guests who clearly have some ‘need’ to simply make the effort to contact us.”
The 25-year-old club has attained President’s Distinguished status every year since 2003.
In the Meeting
Greet your guests and make them feel comfortable and welcome. That’s the golden rule of visitor protocol. A club member should greet guests when they walk in the door—some clubs even have an “official greeter.” Invite the guest to sit next to a member, who is essentially a personal host, helping the visitor understand what’s happening every step of the way.
How important is this initial welcome? “In some ways, you’ve won or lost a new member in their first 30 seconds in the room,” says Brooks, the Toastmaster from Connecticut.
You can add a more personal flavor by giving everyone name tags to wear or putting name tents in front of everyone’s seat. In Zoom calls, have people set their names to appear on the screen. Have visitors sign a guestbook or a similar document, so the club has their names and contact information on file. Also, provide them with information about your club, a club contact, and Toastmasters materials about membership and benefits; this can be done virtually or through a physical packet.
"In some ways, you've won or lost a new member in their first 30 seconds in the room."—Ian Brooks
One practical but essential matter: Be sure your club website information is up to date, particularly when and where your club meets. The last thing you want is a guest missing your meeting because the information they read was wrong. Confirm that your club’s information is also accurately listed on the Toastmasters website’s Find a Club section.
Be sure to formally acknowledge your guests in the meeting, and at the end, ask them if they would like to offer any comments on their experience. Always invite guests to come back, and ask them to join your club. That last part—“the ask”—is essential. Kossowan, the champion club-starter from Canada, says he has been to too many meetings where that final step is skipped. “They don’t invite visitors to join. You have to ask for the sale!”
A Speechcraft program is a great pitch for Toastmasters. Speechcraft is one of the organization’s community-outreach programs, and clubs use it to teach the fundamentals of public speaking to non-members. Aside from helping people boost their comfort level with public speaking, the hope is that participants will decide to continue their skill-building by joining Toastmasters.
Clubs typically present Speechcraft through a series of workshops, delivered in four, six, or eight sessions. The program introduces people to the core of club meetings, with speeches, Table Topics, and evaluations.
Speechcraft offers non-members a taste of Toastmasters, a brief exposure to the benefits you can gain over the long term. As such, it’s an excellent recruiting tool—and about to get better.
The Education Team at Toastmasters World Headquarters is modernizing and improving the Speechcraft program, bringing its content more in line with the current education program, Pathways. The updated program will include digital content. The expanded program is expected to be ready later this year; in the meantime, the original Speechcraft program is still available and highly effective.
A Website’s Value
A club’s website is one of its most important recruitment tools. Many potential members find a club through the group’s website—and its information, tone, and accessibility often influences a person’s decision to visit a club or not. Clubs that have no website at all are at a disadvantage.
“It is vital that a club have a strong, current, accurate, and attractive website to attract new members,” says Beth Stinson, DTM, who has served as webmaster for her club, the Greater Olney Toastmasters in Olney, Maryland.
Not only should the site provide basic logistical information about the club, it can offer instructions, links, and resources to help members deal with different Toastmasters challenges.
“COVID-19 has forced many Toastmasters to embrace the use of new technologies and learn speaking skills for video meetings and webinars,” notes Stinson. “Having a website that can share instructions for using new tools can be extremely helpful to those new to these technologies.”
Paul Sterman is senior editor, executive and editorial content, for Toastmasters International.